Thursday, July 4, 2013

Man-Beast Week: Mothman and Jersey Devil

Is there anything more freaky to us than a man-beast that can also fly? The two most popular ones in our culture are the Mothman and the Jersey Devil. Are these real actual cryptids? Some kind of spirit form? Perhaps just legends to scare people?

The Legend of the Mothman was born in Point Pleasant, WV, a quiet town very close to the Ohio border. It was first reported in 1966 in the local paper, telling about couples having seen a man-sized bird creature that chased their car as they raced down a country road. The legend becomes more murky as a book came out called "The Mothman Prophecies" that widened the story to include this creature showing up before catastrophes, like the town's bridge collapsing and killing dozens of people.

The original story came from couples who were out near the TNT bunker area. Now, Julie (my friend and co-author) and I were recently at that TNT area and that is a very lonely isolated country road now and I'm sure in the 60s, it was even more so. The couples reported a flying man with a 10-foot wing spread and red eyes.  Following that, several more people reported a large bird with huge red eyes. They attributed it to an unusual large heron bird. Supposedly, the sightings stopped in 1967 after the bridge collapse and so many tried to tie the two events together.

Although there have been many reports of seeing Mothman since that time, there has never been an explanation for how it is possible and why. Many believe he is warning us of impending doom, showing up at places before catastrophes, even as recent as Japan's earthquakes. Legends do have a way of becoming a collective explanation for happenings. It's much like the Welch culture blaming mischief in the mines on Tommyknockers or Irish complaining about fairy troublemakers.

Is there any truth to the Mothman sightings? It's impossible to tell. The sightings are so sparse and rare and the legends grow more and more with each telling. As well, such a sight could be misidentified either from the start - the couples seeing a heron in the nighttime or even today when people are seeing explainable objects or creatures and latching onto the legend.

I think if such a being were really out there, it would surely be something of a spiritual nature and not an earthly one. Ergonomically, physiologically, it makes no sense to be able to fly. On the one hand, of the flying man cryptid reports, this is the most feasible physiologically compared with our next flying man-beast I will discuss, the Jersey Devil.

The question in my mind is how to separate the legend of Mothman being a harbinger of doom with the simple freaky appearance of a flying man chasing a car filled with teenagers in the 1960s. In the case of a man-beast flying freak being in a small town rural area and hiding out in the woods and chasing down some teenagers who came into its territory, that's a more logical explanation. But, if you talk about something showing up to warn of impending doom, it seems a rather ineffectual indicator because it spent precious time being seen by locals but not conveying anything that could stop fate. I would seem that catastrophe wise, showing up for 9-11 or perhaps Hurricane Katrina might have been more helpful. If it is a messenger, it his highly ineffectual.

The Jersey Devil is a site-specific supposed cryptid that lives in the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey.  Said to have a kangaroo-like body, hooves, biped, horns, bat wings, clawed hands and the head of a goat. Now if anything could be more cobbled together chimera than this, I don't know. There were reports back as far as the early 1800s of this creature. Over time, more and more legends came about to explain its origins, attributing it to a family called the Leeds who had 12 children and upon the birth of her 13th child, the mother cursed it and was born a beast.  Interestingly, credence has been given to the story because there were an actual couple in that area who had 12 children written of in their will and their last name was Leeds.

Unfortunately, like the Loch Ness legend, over time the area and the entire state embraced this odd figure and it became associated with logos and team names and more. Now, whether it existed or not, was a mistaken creature or perhaps a true cryptid is a moot point. It is now the state bird of sorts.

Could such a cobbled mixture of creatures exist? I seriously doubt it. Could it manage to live hundreds of years in the Pine Barrens? I seriously doubt it. But, does it make for an awesome legend? Hell yeah!  

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